The morning of 15 August 2014 dawned clear and the sun was already warming the beach of Pampelonne when Mayor Roland Bruno, French Parliament member Jean Michel Couve, and Conseil General Alan Spada and numerous patriotic and veterans’ associations commemorated the 70th anniversary of the landings by the 3rd Infantry Division’s 15th Infantry Regiment on Yellow beach. The 0830 ceremony was held at the 7th Army monument on Boulevard Patch in Ramatuelle. Mr. Mike Halik, 15th Infantry Regiment veteran, was with Tim and Monika Stoy of OP International, accompanied by his son, Keith, and daughter, Debbie. A color detachment from the 18th Military Police Brigade in Grafenwoehr, Germany consisting of Staff Sergeant Robert G. Mathis, SPC Cale Schmidt (US Color), and PFC Matthew McKinney (Army flag) participated in the ceremony. Monika and Tim placed a 3ID wreath at the monument and Monika presented an Outpost certificate of appreciation to the Mayor for his continued support of the OP and the Society. Mike Halik received Ramatuelle’s medallion from Mayor Bruno. John Shirley’s reunion tour group also participated in the ceremony, placing a 3rd ID tile at the monument.
The next ceremony was conducted in Saint Tropez at the town’s war memorial on the Place des Lices. Scheduled to begin at 0930, the ceremony was delayed until 1030 while the Mayor waited for the reunion tour group to arrive. The ceremony included members of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion Association, led by their president, Matt Anderson. Mayor Jean-Pierre Tuveri honored the soldiers of the 509th PIB and the 3rd ID’s 15th Infantry Regiment who liberated the village the afternoon of 15 August. Mike Halik was presented Saint Tropez’s town medallion during the ceremony. OP International placed a wreath at the town’s war memorial and honors were rendered at the town’s memorial to the 3rd ID and the 509th PIB which was dedicated in 2009.
A second ceremony was held at 1115, honoring the members of the naval forces which participated in Dragoon with the launching of a poppy wreath from a boat on the waters in the Bay of Saint Tropez, and the placing of wreaths at the memorial on the waterfront. Monika conducted a POW-MIA ceremony with Mayor Tuveri, in memory of the missing in action from Dragoon, especially the seventeen 509th PIB personnel who were dropped in the bay and whose remains were never recovered. The ceremony was very well-received by all present. The reunion group did not participate as it moved on to other ceremonies on the beaches.
The town hosted our delegation for lunch and then the group moved to Cogolin, where the town dedicated a traffic circle in honor of the 3rd ID, as well as a large monument collocated with the town’s previous monuments to the 1st French Army of General de Lattre de Tassigny and the Resistance. Mayor Marc Étienne Lansard hosted a wonderful and well-attended dedication ceremony. The town’s project officer, Mr. Jean-Louis Macault, did a magnificent job in all aspects of organizing the event. The sculptor, Cécile De Kock, fashioned an impressive monument of six tons! Her father sculpted the 1st French Army monument in Cogolin! Mike Halik, Monika, and Tim were presented with the town’s medallion and replicas of the commemorative plaque on the 3rd ID monument. Unfortunately the reunion group, which had accepted the town’s invitation to the ceremony, arrived too late to participate in either the dedication of the traffic circle or the monument, but was present for the post-ceremony military vehicle parade.
That evening our group returned to Saint Tropez to join the town’s post ceremony reception in the town hall. From there we moved to the Citadel where we enjoyed a wonderful evening concert by famous French musician Michel Legrand and singer Natalie Dessay, and concluded with the town’s fireworks.
The morning of 16 August the group traveled to le Londe les Maures, the location of SSG Stanley Bender’s (7th Infantry Regiment) Medal of Honor action on 17 August 1944. Our group participated in ceremonies in the town cemetery honoring several heroes of the fighting for the town from the African Commandos and the Resistance before moving to the Maravenne Bridge for a naming ceremony – henceforth the bridge will be known as Sergeant Bender Bridge! The events were organized by the Souvenir Français of La Londe with Mr. Yves Boyer as the prime mover for the naming ceremony. La Londe dedicated a plaque to the 3rd ID in 2006.
That late afternoon we traveled to Vidauban to participate in that town’s liberation ceremony. The town was liberated by the 45th Infantry Division, and a Thunderbird veteran, Mr. Robert Jackson, was present with his daughter Wendy and son-in-law Chuck Eckert, for the ceremony.
17 August was another great day as the town of Le Luc dedicated a plaque honoring the 3rd ID for its role in the town’s liberation. Several other units of the 6th Corps also fought for Le Luc, including Combat Command Sudre of the 1st French Armored Division and elements from the 45th ID. The town’s commemoration began with recognizing a soldier from the 2nd Cuirassier Regiment of CC Sudre who fell in Le Luc and is buried there. There followed an homage to the same soldier in a square named after him in the town. The major ceremony during which the plaque was unveiled was held in the square in front of the town’s war memorial. It was a great ceremony, and we once again honored POWs and MIAs, as well as unveiling the plaque. Mayor Philippe de la Grange and Monika both delivered comments and honors were suitably rendered. Mike Halik was presented with the town’s medallion, as was Mr. Robert Jackson, who attended the ceremony also. Again the color guard from Grafenwoehr did a splendid job under the broiling August sun of Provence. The event concluded with a reception in the courtyard of the town hall.
That afternoon we returned to La Londe for its liberation commemoration. Mayor François de Canson oversaw the event which consisted of four stages, each stage honoring either resistance fighters, African Commandos, local heroes, and the 3rd ID at the location of its plaque in St Honore, the site of the temporary cemetery established in mid-August 1944 which held remains from both the French and US forces. The final event was held in the town square in front of the war memorial, and was well attended. A parade of military vehicles finished the commemoration.
The evening of 17 August we were back in le Luc for fireworks and a concert by a very good local band.
These three days were truly memorable. Each of the visited communities honored Mike Halik and the 3rd Infantry Division, and we were honored to help commemorate the great service of the 45th Infantry Division in Vidauban. So far, the 70th anniversary commemorations at community level have been fabulous!